Monday, November 21, 2005

Rule #1...

ice, ice baby

... when going for a walk at lunchtime, always take your binoculars with you.

Today, I had my camera with me but no bins - a terrible mistake. On a post-lunch potter around, Mark and I were watching birds at the feeders by the pond. There was a chorus of high-pitched alarm calls when the gaggle of Great, Coal and Blue Tits scattered - a male Sparrowhawk buzzed them and, having failed to catch anything, went off to sit in a tree.

Now the small birds knew he was there, there was probably no point in making another hunting attempt anytime soon, so the Sparrowhawk went off to the next pond (about 30m away) for a bath (yes, even in cold weather, most birds bathe every day - which is more than can be said for most humans).

Under normal weather conditions, that would have been fine, except the pond was frozen. The hawk seemed unable to comprehend this. From a distance, we watched him fly from one edge of the pond to the other, baffled by the lack of water at either.

Though it was a really interesting piece of bird behaviour, it would have been so much more enjoyable if we'd been able to see properly...


photo taken with Nikon Coolpix 995

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Fermyn Wood

I'm sure the current weather conditions (hard frosts at night, bright, sunny, still days) aren't all that much fun for birds, but they make for fun photography. Visited Fermyn Woods (formerly known as Brigstock Country Park) this morning to try to see the Hawfinches (up to four) which are present at the moment.

We wandered around the site in search of the place where they'd been seen most recently, but again, it wasn't easy. After much scanning from a vantage point, one bird popped up on a blackthorn bush, where it tucked into the sloe berries. Great to see one of these big, chunky, pinkish finches, even if it was from some distance away. Impossible to say what the origins of these birds are, but there's been a definite influx of continental birds during recent weeks.

The park - formerly a sand pit, now landscaped - was full of scrubby vegetation, meaning lots of tasty natural food for thrushes and finches (see Song Thrush above, scoffing sloes). A few Siskins called overhead, a female Bullfinch nibbled on leftover blackberry seeds and a couple of Red Kites lazily flapped over the surrounding farmland (this is the heart of the East Midlands kite country).

The only things to spoil the visit were the dog-walkers who seemed to have little awareness (or consideration) of any other people using the park. A pack of six West Highland terriers roamed out of control through the bushes, sending birds literally flying and getting right on everyone else's nerves.

Of course, it wasn't the dogs' fault, but that of their owner. If I'd have thought of it a bit sooner, I'd have said something to her.

Something like: "If you can't keep your dogs under control, why not put them on leads - then you wouldn't have to go chasing them all over the place and we wouldn't have to listen to you shouting at them".


digiscoped photos taken with Nikon Coolpix 995 + Leica Apo Televid 62 with 16x eyepiece

Saturday, November 19, 2005


I've said it before: I'm not really much of a twitcher. But, as has been pointed out to me on several occasions this week, it's not often that a Gray-cheeked Thrush* turns up in Hertfordshire. And so, like many others, I was persuaded into going to see it.

I've been to see a few other Really Big Birds (Black Lark, Cream-coloured Courser, American Robin), but today's thrush was by far the hardest work. We stood around in the cold for more than two hours before getting a look at the little... beauty - for all of 15 seconds. When I did see it, the bird was partially obscured by twigs, leaves, branches and 200 other twitchers.

I saw Nigel Blake's superb Gray-cheeked portrait last night, which whetted my appetite. After spending all morning waiting around to see the bird, I thought, ha, at least he'll have sat around for hours getting cold like the rest of us. But it seems this was not the case - he dropped in while on his lunchbreak and the beast flew to within 30 feet of him. Talk about jammy...

Fortunately, the Red-necked Grebe at Priory Country Park, Bedford, was a lot more obliging. Like the Ferry Meadows bird of 2004, this one seemed not to be bothered be our presence on the shore, though it didn't care for barking dogs or screaming children.

Just as interesting was to watch about six Grey Wagtails come in to roost in bankside vegetation by a sluice gate - not something I've seen before.

photos taken with Nikon Coolpix 995 + Leica Apo Televid 62 with 16x eyepiece

*It's an American bird so it gets an American spelling from me

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Snettisham wader roost

The high-tide wader roost at Snettisham is famous, and rightly so. Time your visit right and you can enjoy the spectacle of thousands of waders flying closer and closer to you, chased by the waters of the Wash.

The weather conditions this morning were good... sunny and not too windy, although it was plenty cold enough for me. So when the flocks of Knot and Bar-tailed Godwit turned in the air, they positively shimmered, looking grey-brown one second and sparkling white the next.

Eventually, the flocks gathered close to the shore (and the hide) to rest, forming tightly-packed groups - Knot in the middle, Bar-tailed Godwits around the edge, Oystercatchers quite separate.

The noise made by the birds was just as amazing as the sight they made. I thought I could hear a distant train rushing by, at one point, but realised it was the cries of the waders and their wings beating through the air.

A close-up Little Egret also provided some entertainment on the walk back.

photos taken with Nikon Coolpix 995 + Leica Apo Televid 62 with 16x eyepiece